The leaves are fluttering everywhere now... Flatpack-Democracy-inspired groups make advances in UK local elections
A few weeks ago we brought you news of the “Rights of Spring” convention of “independent” groups, contending for seats in the May 2ndlocal English elections (see poster left). They were distinct for having been inspired by, and connected to, the Flatpack Democracy methods of Independents for Frome – a human-centred, non-sectarian democratic process which brought electoral success in their own town, and has inspired local activists around the world.
Could the Flatpack way advance in other local contexts? FD’s founder Peter Macfadyean, in his blog for us, noted how high the stakes were:
We cannot wait to be ‘consulted’ then ignored. On the largest issue life on earth faces, Extinction Rebellion (XR) has clearly recognised this and head for London on April 15th to demand change. And at a local level, Frome’s Independents (ifF) have taken initial steps in showing what can be done by committed and organised locals outside of Party Politics, looking to change the focus to inclusive participation and ownership of decisions by the community.
Placing these together in one paragraph is very deliberate. If we have any chance of facing the climate emergency without extreme chaos, it will be through political engagement at a community level (the sort of work the Alternative UK and her partners are embarked upon in Plymouth).
IfF return to the polls on May 2nd, along with at least 40 other groups of Independents in other towns – committed community activists who have had enough of not being listened to.
So how did they do? As Indra Adnan’s editorial makes clear, there is a wider battle of narratives going on around how badly the major parties did, and how strongly people reached for smaller parties or outright “independents”.
We’ll be updating this blog over the next week or so, but Peter has shared with us an inspiring early picture – from his own researches – of how well Flatpack-inspired groups (or “values-based independents” in his words) did on May 2nd.
Interesting to note straightway how the South West is a hotbed for this kind of approach. And also, note the kinds of vocabulary of agency and power that are attached to each of these localised projects: BIG, independents, Progressive, ACT, Initiative, Together, ALL, 4All, Community, Open, Alliance, Future. (Not on there is the official name of the Torridge advance, Torridge Common Ground, in which a leading light is XR’s Jamie Kelsey-Fry).
It feels like a new democratic culture coming to self-awareness. We hope to be playing our part in helping everyone join the dots between them, and promoting a new, more friendly and humane way of doing power.
Update: John Harris praises the continuing success of the Frome/Flatpack model in The Guardian. Quote:
This continuing revolution, moreover, is not restricted to big places. Where I live, in the 25,000-population town of Frome, the coalition of independents in charge of the town council – who last week won all 17 of its seats, a feat they pulled off for the second time – have spent eight years encouraging sustainable transport, assisting local charities and helping to ease the realities of poverty and inequality.
Among their achievements is the town’s “community fridge”, which encourages people to donate food that would otherwise be thrown away – and is now saving 90,000 items annually as well as enabling emissions savings equivalent to taking 43 cars off the road.
This was not an idea authored in a central ministry: it is a classic example of an initiative that has proved successful and which now deserves to be adopted elsewhere: an opportunity for local politics to influence what happens nationally, rather than the other way round.
Across Europe and beyond, this kind of thinking is known as the new municipalism, and its lessons are obvious. If you want representatives who reflect the places they serve, we will have to pay them more. If councils are to attract and retain new people, they need not warm words but meaningful power. Many town, city and county halls are due a huge change in culture.
Above all, if we are eventually going to push beyond the anger, silliness and polarisation of Brexit politics, it is obvious where we will have to start: not among grandstanding celebs and the white noise of social media, but in close proximity to the problems we need to solve, in the places where millions of us actually live.